Volume 12, Issue 3 – Special 2013

The inaugural National Leadership Education Research Agenda was created to establish a foundation for scholarship that will guide the field of Leadership Education and develop it as a discipline. Its timely research priorities present a framework for scholarship and resulting applied and basic implications. This paper provides perspective about the agenda’s conceptualization, development, and application. It establishes perspective for the applied nature of the agenda and transdiciplinary scholarship that can lead to powerful implications for the field of Leadership Education and the constituents it serves. Further, it explores the agenda’s priorities and how the resulting collaborative dialogue can advance the fields of Leadership and Leadership Education globally.

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The best way to describe the current status of Leadership Studies is that it is an “emerging discipline.” Few universities have departments, or even programs, in Leadership, and those that do exist usually have a modifier (e.g., “Organizational Leadership,” “Educational Leadership”), so we are, at best, emerging as a discipline, but I am certain that we will one day be there. Of course, there are those both outside of the study of leadership (many!) and scholars of leadership (some), who disagree that Leadership Studies is a discipline, and a portion of those would argue that it never should or could become one. My intent in this brief commentary is to try to assess the current state of Leadership Studies as a discipline, using the characteristics of an academic discipline that have been discussed more fully elsewhere (Riggio, 2011). I will then try to provide some guidelines for advancing the discipline of Leadership Studies, recommendations for Leadership Studies programs, as well as exhortations to adhere to exemplary practices in the academic study and teaching of leadership.

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When I am asked to speak on leadership, and leadership development specifically, invariably someone in the audience will offer that “leadership really cannot be taught; you either are born with the ability to lead or you are not.” I then spend a few minutes describing what we know about leadership development and the evidence showing that skills can be attained. I also suggest that while athletes may come to a game with raw talent, there is much that can be and is done through training to hone that talent.

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This perspective piece addresses specifically future lines of inquiry and practice that advance the goals of the agenda through an interdisciplinary approach to leadership studies. Here, the authors explain in-depth the contexts of an interdisciplinary approach to the agenda and address specific challenges therein. In order to provide clarity to this approach, considerations are made with respect to the language, contextual reference points, and tensions regarding measurement of learning. The authors provide impetus for inclusion of particular, salient priorities from the agenda, and address opportunities for practice and future research. Suggestions reveal unique opportunities within an interdisciplinary perspective such as the integration of diverse content and perspectives as well as collaboration across disciplines.

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In the context of business schools, the word “leadership” is widely used in missions, visions, and marketing materials. However, underlying support and the infrastructure to truly develop leaders may be lacking. The purpose of this paper is to highlight the challenges and issues facing leadership education in the context of business education. More specifically, we highlight some of the structural challenges, foundational issues, and research related problems and identify several opportunities to address some of the areas for development. Throughout this paper, we discuss how the National Leadership Education Research Agenda can spark research that will legitimize our work not only in business, but across disciplines.

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The tapestry of leadership development has a long history in American higher education. As a faculty member for the last 26 years of my career teaching the history of student affairs and higher education and studying college student leadership, I enjoyed examining perspectives on the evolution of leadership development and how it grew from being incidental to the college experience into the rich, vibrant tapestry it is now, intentionally developed in the curriculum and the co-curriculum.

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Vision . . . Focus . . . Change . . . Influence! These terms are commonly used in the language of leaders and leadership education. In the context of the National Leadership Education Research Agenda (NLERA) (Andenoro, et al., 2013) those terms reflect higher-level meanings and applications. First and foremost, the overarching vision of a ‘living’ document to guide and direct future leadership education research has far-reaching implications for faculty, students, and ultimately the knowledge base of leadership education. Scholars of leadership education should be motivated and challenged by the NLERA to identify how their individual and collective contributions expand the knowledge base of our discipline. Having foresight and recognizing what leadership education aspires to be and become in the future was prerequisite to the development of the NLERA. The ability to envision a preferred future through a new and different lens is the very essence of a vision. Based upon that vision, we now have a framework and pathway to build upon our existing knowledge by adding new knowledge that, by consensus, is both important and significant (Warmbrod, 1986; 1987, 1993).

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Student affairs educators have an important role in advancing the National Leadership Education Research Agenda (NLERA). This article reviews the ‘cross fertilization’ of student affairs and leadership education by examining strengths, opportunities, and challenges in relation to the NLERA priorities. Student affairs educators’ commitment to the integration of theory and practice, to the intentional and developmental design and assessment of learning environments, and to applying critical and constructivist perspectives to the ethical and emancipatory foundations of leadership education are all explored. Recommendations for future research are identified, including a call for research that includes complex modeling and multivariate analyses, and research that examines the contributions of cognitive, affective, and efficacy related dimensions of leadership.

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Today’s leadership educator is housed in a variety of departments across our colleges and universities. As a result, leadership coursework is taught contextually based in multiple disciplines including, but not limited to, business, education, military studies, student affairs, and agriculture (Pennington, 2005). Within colleges of agriculture, leadership offerings include not only coursework, but also minors, majors, and certificate programs (Brown & Fritz, 1994, Fritz & Brown, 1998, Fritz, Townsend, Hoover, Weeks, Carter, & Nietfeldt, 2003, Pennington, 2005, Pennington & Weeks, 2006). A few academic leadership programs in agriculture have enrollments large enough to employ leadership educators devoted solely to the purpose of teaching and studying leadership. However, it is common for leadership educators teaching in the context of agriculture to be academically prepared as agricultural (teacher or extension) educators and then later assigned to teach agricultural leadership. Typically, leadership educators in agricultural departments are agricultural educators, first, and leadership educators, second (Fritz & Brown, 1998, Pennington Weeks, Weeks, Barbuto, & Langone, 2009). For the purposes of this paper, leadership educators teaching within the context of agriculture will be referred to as agricultural leadership educators.

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